"Roots" Is a Definitive Re-telling of a Television Classic

TV Review - Jackie K Cooper
"Roots" (History, A&E, Lifetime)

After appearing on TV screens almost forty years ago, Alex Haley's "Roots" is being presented in a new version. Starting May 30 and running through June 2, History, A&E and Lifetime will air two hours of this story each night. It is a re-telling of sorts as it does not word for word follow the script of the first show and there is also a brand new cast. Those who responded well to the first telling of Kunta Kinte and his family's story will have a heyday with this version.

I don't remember that much about the first version of "Roots" but this new edition seems to spend more time in Africa telling Kunta Kinte's background. We learn from this part of the story what a proud and noble people made up Kunta Kinte's (Malachi Kirby) family. Kunta Kinte himself was a proud Mandinka warrior and knew family came first.

When he is captured by enemies of his family he is sold into slavery. Once in America and on the plantation of John Waller (James Purefoy) his story focuses on the curse of slavery and the evils inherent in that status. This mini-series displays the brutal life of slaves and features not one redeeming character who is in the landed gentry.

Night after night the audience is offered the tale of Kinte's children and grandchildren as they live under the oppression of their white owners. The violence shown is brutal and the language is chilling. Profanity is not deleted from this southern story but peppers the air.

The drama actually gets better as it progresses. Even though Kunta Kinte is the focal point of this story, Kirby is not the actor who comes off best. Comparison are hard to deny and Levar Burton gave a much more defined performance in this role. The outstanding actors in this new presentation are Anika Noni Rose who plays Kinte's daughter Kizzy, and Rege'-Jean Page who plays her son Chicken George. These two grab your attention and make you empathize with their characters. They also haver some special spark of charisma that makes them the "stars" of each and every scene in which they appear.

Eight hours is a lot of time to devote to one story but "Roots" is worth every minute of air time. It is a story worth seeing with a cast that delivers vibrancy and authenticity. It is a story of America's past that can not be denied. It must be faced and accepted.

The series premieres on Monday, May 30 at 9PM on History, A&E and Lifetime.

Jackie K Cooper